Free Agent Faceoff: Nelson Cruz vs. Carlos Beltran

In this installment of the Free Agent Faceoff series, we look at two aging, but powerful, outfielders in Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran. Both players provide poor defense but good bats in a market that has only a handful of the latter.

Cruz is currently serving the tail end of a 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, working out in Arizona in preparation to potentially rejoin the Rangers for the playoffs if they happen to win one of the Wild Card spots. Cruz is very limited defensively, which explains how he has posted just 1.3, 1.1 and 1.6 fWAR the past three seasons. Still, his bat can provide a big boost, and the Rangers' struggles since his suspension may show how important his hitting was to their lineup — Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently went so far as to say that Cruz has "killed" the Rangers with his absence (which might be an exaggeration, given that Alex Rios has filled in capably since Cruz's suspension). Cruz is set to hit the free agent market after coming to the end of a two-year, $16MM deal with the Rangers that bought out his last two arbitration seasons. 

At 36, Beltran is three years older than Cruz, but he has a similar profile, in that his still-excellent offense is increasingly offset by his defense, resulting this season in a pedestrian 1.7 fWAR despite a .297/.337/.491 batting line. That rather low fWAR may have at least something to do with variance in single-season defensive statistics, but Beltran has fallen far down the defensive spectrum, and at his age, his defensive numbers might not get more than a dead-cat bounce. Beltran is finishing out a two-year, $26MM contract with the Cardinals. He'll aim to play at least a few more seasons, and hopefully give himself a clear shot at Hall of Fame induction in the process.

At this point in their careers, both players would probably be best suited for situations in which they can play DH at least a couple times a week. Beltran would have rejected that possibility two years ago, saying in 2011 that he wanted to remain in the National League so he could avoid the DH. We'll see if he retains that stance next offseason. Still, if nothing else, both have middle-of-the-lineup bats. Leaving aside the consideration of qualifying offers (Beltran might well get one, and we'll see about Cruz), which player would you rather have?


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